In the afterward of Terminal Hero #1, writer Peter Milligan describes the book as unlike anything he’s previously written. That’s mostly true, although traces of Shade the Changing Man are present. It’s a weird comic by a weird writer with some weird art, and it’s definitely unlike anything else on the stands.
The story is a strange blend with many interesting elements swirling about–a protagonist diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, undercurrents of sketchy biomedical experimental treatments, a somewhat posh cast of London-based medical professionals. Also in the mix are bizarre superpowers, demonic flashbacks, and other supernatural nuggets.
None of the pieces really add up to a cohesive whole that makes complete sense, but that seems to be by choice. Milligan’s script jumps, sometimes roughly, from one strange scene to the next without much explanation. It’s a jerky ride, but a ride nonetheless and there are some intriguing and interesting hooks laid along the way.
The title Terminal Hero seems like a bit of a misnomer, at least after one issue. Milligan introduces us to the life of Rory Fletcher, a 20-something junior doctor at London’s King Street Hospital. In the opening pages, Fletcher is diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor. From there, the character experiences a whirlwind of circumstances.
The plot takes so many turns that it’s tough to get a sense of where Fletcher morally stands among the extreme situations he’s placed in. While not overtly evil, there’s not much heroic energy emanating from him either. His bearing comes off more as Terminal Guy than Terminal Hero. Victim of happenstance rather than rising to any sort of occasion.
Milligan looks to be building a world here, with the first issue exposing just the tip a dark iceberg underneath the surface. What is this story about? The hints introduced are compelling, but there are perhaps too many introduced at once. This isn’t a concept that’s able to be easily summed up after one issue.
The oddest beat in the book comes when Fletcher, perhaps hallucinating, visits a female colleague and renders her nude via either real or imaginary bursts of flame. The colleague brushes the whole thing off and then meekly offers Fletcher a cup of tea. Jump cut to a red light district, where our “hero” is suddenly embarking on a debauched journey of drugs and prostitution.
On the one hand the sequence can be read as a sort of male-POV struggle between living la vida loca and settling down with the proverbial Betty. On the other, however, there’s not enough narrative strength presented to really make that case–or any case at all– for even the most intelligent of readers. It’s confusing. While a paint-by-numbers story isn’t needed, it’s not entirely clear what Milligan is trying to tell us here. The murkiness is intriguing, yet somewhat coarse.
The art by Piotr Kowlaski isn’t exactly stunning but it does carry a unique charm in its offbeat consistency. His characters have a comic-y, pop-art look tempered by doses of realism. His work looks the best when Fletcher is show in his superpowered form (if it can be called that), with fiery lines energetically filling the panels. There are a few shots that are particularly inspired, landing somewhere between Mike Allred’s Madman and Bob Burden’s The Flaming Carrot. However, those shots are scant and for the most part the artwork hums along at a serviceable, standard pace.
There are a lot of interesting building blocks scattered about in the first issue of Terminal Hero, and Peter Milligan’s knack for bizarre storytelling is firmly in place. The book leaves readers with a head full of questions, perhaps the most overriding being “What did I just read?” It’s a debut with strong writing and plenty of promise, but the delivery does land on the rough side.
Signs of life are present in Terminal Hero, however more visits will be needed to make full sense out of all the pieces in its strange puzzle. Milligan fans and those drawn to Vertigo’s sensibilities will love it, others might find it to be a bit too perplexing of a read. It’s an original outing by two solid creators, and worth checking out for the Mature Readers crowd.